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Why cycle? A good question. For some people cycling is a sport, for others it is a way of getting fit, others use their bikes as an environmentally friendly form of transport. As for me, I cycle because it is usually the most convenient and practical form of transport available. Cycling is simply a way of getting from A to B.
My daily commute to work is about seven and a half miles. In the rush hour this can take between twenty five and forty five minutes to drive! If I do drive then I am either contributing to the congestion and pollution in the area, or I am desperately trying to find a new rat run through a residential area to get to my destination in a sensible timeframe. Neither of these options really appeals to me. Public transport doesn’t either as the only bus available takes over an hour for this journey thanks to its continual stopping at bus stops.
If I cycle to work it takes me between twenty five to thirty minutes dependant on red traffic lights and my fitness level. In fact looking back through the data I’ve recorded from my cycle computer I see that the majority of the times recorded are in the twenty three to twenty five minute range (this excludes stationary time). Therefore cycling is not only usually quicker, it gives a more predictable journey time and so I should be late for work less often because of traffic related delays.
Putting this mathematical analysis to the test has also been done. I have challenged a work colleague to a race, taken the same route as her (less congested but longer and more hilly) and still been waiting for her at the end of the journey. Another day my wife arrived at my work because it was raining as I was about to leave and she thought I’d like a lift (although we work close to each other our shifts make daily car sharing unpractical). I declined the lift as it would leave the bike at work and so make my next day’s journey harder. After she drove off I went back indoors to get my drinks bottle I had left on my desk. I then rode home, put the bike away, had a shower and was just getting dressed when she arrived home!
This faster journey is made possible not by fitness or a lightweight racing bike, nor is it made possible in my case by cycle lanes or paths which take shortcuts, it is made possible by simply riding legally past all the traffic queues. I still get stopped by some red lights or junctions, but overall I can just ride at my own pace and ignore the delays that are holding up the drivers.
Of course, cycling is not always the most practical option. If I go to London it takes me two and a half hours to get to the centre, which is an hour and a half longer than by train or an hour and three quarters longer than by motorbike. However cycling can be combined with other transport methods. If I go to Bristol for work then one option which takes only slightly longer than driving is to take my folding bicycle. I can then ride to my local station, take the bike with me and ride across London (quicker than public transport), then take the bike on the train to Bristol and cycle to the office. In Bristol the bike again comes into its own as I can cut a long distance off of the journey by walking over one of the footbridges over the river.
I am determined one of these days though to ride the whole way. It may be about one hundred and sixty miles, but this is achievable in one day and I think it will be a very pleasant ride (other than getting through London). My main difficulty will be trying to explain to my employers why I need a whole day to travel to a destination that I usually travel to in three hours.
Lets look at some other practical aspects of cycling over driving as a form of transport. Around town it is easy to recover from getting lost. You can stop, get off and walk back to the junction you’ve just missed; in a car you have to keep driving and try to return to that spot but usually just get more lost. If in town you have a one way road blocking your route, then rather than go the long way around to your destination again you can get off and walk up the pavement for the short distance. Parking is easy. No need to try to find a car park, work out how long you’ll be and pay, then try to work out the best way to walk back into town. On a bike you ride to the destination you require, then lock the bike to something immediately outside; or if you have a small folding bike you can take it in with you. When you move onto the next shop/whatever you can take the bike with you if you want to. Luggage carrying is easier than people think; as long as it’s built for it a bike can take an amazing weight in luggage with hardly any discomfort to the rider.
Cycling is also a very economical way of travelling. Each journey incurs no additional cost to the rider, unlike public transport where you pay for each journey or cars where you have to purchase petrol. If you want to really find out the true cost of cycling then you have to add up all your cycling related costs and then divide them by your mileage. I spent what some people would think a silly amount of money on my last bike. I could have bought one for a much cheaper price; and my lights were a substantial outlay as well (they are nearly a third of the overall cost!) However my cost per mile over the twelve months of riding that I have logged is already down to thirty seven pence, and is falling further with every turn of the pedals. For me to ride to work at this price is already cheaper than buying a bus ticket, and is also cheaper than the estimated true cost of driving the car (AA figures are approximately forty five pence per mile).
When I think of the cost of buying a very cheap bicycle, about a tenth of what I have spent to date, then the cost per mile could be as low as three pence! However you have to start thinking about economics here, as I doubt that I would have ridden the distance that I have on a cheaper bike as it would not have been as enjoyable; I also have doubts as to whether the cheaper bike would still be running, or whether it would have incurred high maintenance costs to replace all the worn components. Therefore the cost per mile of a cheaper initial purchase could be much higher than the cost per mile of a better bicycle. I know one fact though, my bike is still running strong and so the more I ride it the lower the cost per mile is going to get.
Other factors to consider when discussing why cycling is better than any other form of transport is the surroundings. As an example here let me mention my last ride home from my sister-in-law’s. Had I driven home it would have taken me half an hour, and I would have had the company of the radio. The car lights would have shown me the road ahead, but the fields around me would have been lost in a sixty mile an hour blur of late night blackness. As it was I was cycling and taking a straighter route along some very quiet country roads, with a reasonable journey time of just over the hour.
As I rode my nostrils were filled with the pleasant smell of a late summer evening and early night. I could smell the crops in the fields, the honeysuckle in the hedges and the moisture as I passed ponds and damp ditches. I was travelling slowly enough to admire the tree silhouettes against the skyline, along with the harsh yet still beautiful outline of distant radio masts with their warning lights flashing their regular red pulsing beat against the night sky. I could compare the uninhabited darkness with the twinkling lights of settlements nestling in hollows and dimples of the land. These distant lights spoke volumes, they spoke of people, of company, of a community. In some cases a community long established and with a traceable history back over the millennium, in other cases of a community recently settled. As I passed through a small village with its solitary ancient pub pouring a pool of light onto the road I was able to pass the time of the evening with a late night dog walker, or should I say dog emptier? Had I been in the car would I even have seen this dark clothed gentleman? Would I have scared him into standing well back into the hedge holding his charge tightly on its leash for safety’s sake? And then, the ultimate in riding enjoyment. A barn owl, scared by my lights left its perch on a post and headed down the road for the next perch. This flight though was not as the owl had planned, its next perch was also on my path, the flight speed matched mine, and so together we arrived at the post. The owl alighted, and then without folding its wings it departed again. Together we travelled along the road once more until finally the owl turned and flew off across a field. However for me, that last minute or so riding with an owl flying almost within reach was just a magical moment that I know can be repeated if I continue to ride.
As my wife suddenly realised once, the surroundings need not be limited to countryside. Last year, our first holiday after buying our folding bikes, my wife and I were in the south of France and driving back to our accommodation. We saw a town from the motorway and took the exit in a moment of split decision. As we drove though and looked out of the car windows my wife said she’d like to look around. I was driving at the time and simply drove straight out of town and as we left the town and passed out of the pay and display zone I pulled over and parked the car. It was a matter of seconds to unfold the bikes and head back to the town centre. Within a few minutes of parking we were cycling around the main town and admiring the ancient ruins. We spent a full hour doing the tourist thing, walking the narrow streets, admiring the architecture, browsing the shops, riding on to our next destination, taking photos, sitting by the rivers edge basking in the sunshine and discussing where to go next whilst watching the barges negotiating the river’s bend. Finally we were back at the car and folding the bikes up. Then came the words of wisdom from the oracle, “If we’d been walking we’d only just be starting to look at the town now, and to see all that we have would have taken a day not just an hour”.
On our holiday this year we have cycled much more than ever before for this very reason. We choose a destination and park there, then we ride and explore. This year’s words of wisdom are that in bottom gear at a slow tourist pace we see everything we could see if we were walking (more actually as we see over walls that pedestrians cannot) but we are travelling above walking pace. As we pass areas where there is nothing to see we can speed up, resulting in our covering much more ground than is possible on foot. Even better, should we suddenly see something worth stopping for we can without any fear of obstructing traffic. Had we been sightseeing in a car we might have travelled miles in search of a safe stopping place, but by bicycle we can stop almost instantly. Therefore overall we see much more than is possible if we were walking and considerably more than we would see cocooned inside a car.
It is for these reasons that I intend my next holiday to be a complete cycling trip. It is not so much the destination that matters, it is the getting there and enjoying seeing what others have missed.
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